by Bryan Hance
Topics: Bike Protection, Bike Recovery, Bike Theft
Topics: Bike Protection, Bike Recovery, Bike Theft
Did your stolen bike wind up for sale on Craigslist? If so, this article is for you.
Craigslist isn't as much of a scourge these days as it was in the past - mostly thanks to competitors like Facebook Marketplace and Offerup who stole away their market share. However: we still see bikes pop up on Craigslist from time to time, because it is largely completely unregulated and gives thieves and fences near total anonymity when they list stolen bikes (or stolen anything) there.
Each online sales service has its own little quirks that can help you possibly ID and chase your bike, though, so we'll focus on what to do with Craigslist here. If your stolen bike is on Offerup or Facebook Marketplace, see our other writeups - "What to do if you find your stolen bike for sale online on Offerup" and "What to do if you find your stolen bike for sale online on Facebook Marketplace"
And before we being: All the bikes and images in this ad were grabbed completely at random - we're not implying or saying these sellers in these example images are selling stolen bikes - they were just the random ads we grabbed to create this article.
So: Here's what you should do if your stolen bike winds up for sale on Craigslist
Craigslist will not lift a finger to help you, period. Don't even try. They don't answer to anybody unless there's a subpoena involved, which has made them a particular fave of bad guys, thieves and fences since their inception.
Craigslist has no functional customer service, and to be honest they've repeatedly demonstrated that they do not care their service is used to fence stolen goods. They simply can't be bothered to help.
Point being: don't waste your time contacting Craigslist. They're worthless re: this.
The first thing you want to do is to take screenshots of the ad, including all of the individual photos of the bike, and save them somewhere on your computer for later.
You need to do this because thieves often remove and relist their Craigslist ads with regularity in order to avoid detection. So it is important you grab screenshots of the ad while it is still there - i.e. before the bad guy pulls the ad down and you can't see it anymore.
We recommend you do this on a desktop (instead of a mobile device) because you'll get larger, more detailed images, but you can work with whatever is available to you.
On Windows, you can either use the Snipping Tool to grab and save an image, or you can press the Windows + Printscreen keys at the same time which will save a screenshot to your 'Screenshots' folder, which is typically found in C:\Users(your username)\Pictures\Screenshots
On a Mac, you can take a screenshot as described here - basically press keys Shift - Command - 3 all at the same time, and this will save a screenshot to your desktop.
Take a screencap of the ad itself, then click each one of the images with the ad so the image enlarges. Take a screenshot of those too, so you capture the maximum amount of detail.
If you want, you can also "save a copy" of the ad to a folder on your desktop, however this is often less useful than just having screenshots. Typically this is done in your browser, just right click anywhere in the ad and choose "Save Page As" and save it somewhere on your computer.
Next, you will click the "reply" button in the upper left of the ad to see if the seller exposed an email or a phone number. We're also going to take screenshots if they did either one of these.
Here's the thing - Craigslist (by design) lets sellers hide their email and phone number behind their system - and they also make you jump through the "Please click all these images" are-you-a-human check before letting you even see. So: either you will see data here or you won't. But we want to check.
Here's an example of an ad that does not expose an email or a phone number (007) - i.e. all you see is the "Craigslist hidden" email address. In this case, we don't even bother screencapping this because it is worthless.
Now, here's an example of an ad that does expose an email or a phone number (003) - i.e. once you click "reply" and (optionally) solve the "Click all the X" challenge, you may see something like this:
If there is a name, phone, or email address exposed, take another screenshot of this - especially if there is a phone number because reversing a phone number is fairly trivial, and of especial interest to law enforcement.
If a Craigslist bad guy has your bike, he probably has other stolen bikes, too, so we're going to try and search for other ads from the same seller.
Why would you want to do this? Because it makes all the difference between calling police and saying "I found my stolen bike for sale on Craigslist" and saying "I found my stolen bike along with six others for sale on Craigslist", which will likely get police more interested. Also, if you can cross reference bikes from the same seller to other Bike Index listings, it's pretty easy to connect all the victims with the same officer or detective, if you can get one involved.
The first way to do this is Just go to the "Bikes" section of your town's Craigslist and look for ads posted with a similar background image as the one with your stolen bike in it. This is slow and tedious, but it's pretty easy to just scroll through the last couple day's worth of bike listings or so and see if you can see other bikes bikes posted with the same background as your stolen bike.
In this example, it's pretty fast and easy to ID all the bikes being sold with the same wall in the background.
Another method is to search on specific phrasing in the ad that may be included in other ads by the same seller.
Sellers will sometimes put very specific phrases in their ads - things like "Please CALL or TEXT me now", "Delivery in the area is possible!!!" or "bike has been deeply cared for and maintained meticulously" - that they will just copy-paste across all their other Craigslist ads. When they do this, they make it easy to find all their other ads - by just searching on that phrase.
Note that specific phrase - "Please CALL or TEXT me now" - with the capitalization – i.e. this seller puts "Please CALL or TEXT me now" at the bottom of all their ads. Searching for that "Please CALL or TEXT me now" in the Craigslist search bar brings up all their other ads.
If you find other ads from the same seller that has your stolen bike, do the following
This may take some time and a little work, but again, it's way more likely for you to get police assistance if you can bring them multiple bikes/multiple crimes instead of just your single stolen bike.
Thieves and fences often post their stolen goods on multiple platforms to move it as fast as possible. So: If your stolen bike is on Craigslist, make sure you also check Facebook Marketplace and Offerup to see if it is posted there as well. If it is, screencap those ads too - you may just get lucky and the thief may let their name, email, phone, or location slip.
Now that you have captured this data - screenshots of the ad, any email addresses or phone numbers, and any other ads from the same seller that may also be for stolen bikes - call whatever local police you filed with and see if you can get their assistance.
At the time of writing this article (January 2023) not many police departments are offering help with stolen bikes found online. Your mileage may vary, depending on what city you are in. Typically these are factors that will help you get police help:
So: keep the above in mind before you call.
Regardless of whether you get police help, it's also good to see if there are any local anti-theft Facebook groups for your area where you can liaise with people there. In many cities there are already anti-theft folks tracking known thieves and trading information (like screenshots) with each other to identify the bad guys in their cities.
In some cases, if you post "this seller has my stolen bike" to these groups, those groups may already know the sellers name and location and can advise you further. Working with these groups is often key to putting all the pieces together on bad guys who repeatedly sell stolen bikes online.
Thanks for reading, and we hope we can help you get your stolen bike back!